DPInterface Canon PowerShot SD600
Digital ELPH Review (Digital Ixus 60/Ixy Digital 70)
Brad Soo - March 26th, 2006

The Canon PowerShot SD600 Digital ELPH is the 2006 successor to the SD450 Digital ELPH. While it features the same 3x zoom lens, Canon plopped in a new image sensor which is suppose to produce images with less noise. And this is no minor upgrade, here are the other changes:

  • New image sensor which produces less noise
  • Higher resolution (6 megapixels)
  • New design to make it look "classical"
  • 2.5 inch LCD with 50% more resolution compared to previous Digital ELPHs
  • New ISO 800 and High Auto ISO options
  • Slight user interface refinements
  • New "print" menu
  • My Colors post-processing can now be done in playback

Let's see what the SD600 can do. With the new year bringing in new competitors which are quite a bit tougher, the SD600 is going to have to be much better than the SD450.

About the many names this camera has, here's a helpful list to get you through the name-game of the ELPHs:

  • Canon PowerShot Digital ELPH (USA)
  • Canon Ixy Digital (Japan/Taiwan)
  • Canon Digital Ixus (Rest of the world; UK, Europe, Asia, etc)

So that means: SD600 (Ixus 60), SD630 (Ixus 65) and SD700 (Ixus 800). To put a halt to all this confusion, I'll use the USA name as a "standard" in my reviews, this one included.

The Canon PowerShot SD600 Digital ELPH (USA) is known as the Canon Ixy Digital 70 in Japan/Taiwan and the Canon Digital Ixus 60 in other parts of the world.

Size and Weight

With the 2006 bringing lots of new cameras, the SD600's competitors have changed since the SD450:

(161.2)  86.0 x 53.5 x 21.7 mm (140 g) - Canon PowerShot SD600 Digital ELPH
(173.3)  90.4 x 56.5 x 26.4 mm (165 g) - Canon PowerShot SD700 IS Digital ELPH
(166.0)  88.5 x 57.0 x 20.5 mm (112 g) - Casio Exilim Z600
(163.6)  90.0 x 55.0 x 18.6 mm (130 g) - Fujifilm FinePix Z2
(177.0)  93.0 x 61.0 x 23.0 mm (130 g) - HP Photosmart R727
(171.2)  101.0 x 49.8 x 20.4 mm (125 g) - Kodak EasyShare V570
(163.6)  92.0 x 50.0 x 21.6 mm (120 g) - Kodak EasyShare V603
(172.0)  93.0 x 59.0 x 20.0 mm (135 g) - Nikon Coolpix S5
(171.1)  94.8 x 55.9 x 20.4 mm (103 g) - Olympus Stylus 710
(170.2)  94.0 x 50.8 x 25.4 mm (132 g) - Panasonic Lumix FX01
(166.0)  88.5 x 54.5 x 23.0 mm (125 g) - Pentax Optio A10
(175.3)  96.5 x 61.0 x 17.8 mm (130 g) - Samsung Digimax i6
(165.2)  89.7 x 54.9 x 20.6 mm (134 g) - Sony Cyber-shot T9
(169.0)  89.0 x 57.0 x 23.0 mm (127 g) - Sony Cyber-shot W30/W50/W70

The size comparison has changed a bit since my last review. I've added a new and very unique unit on the very left to compare the size of digital cameras - As far as I know, DPI is the first camera review site to do this.

The SD600 is about the same size as the SD450. Not the lightest in its class but still the smallest, the SD600 is very compact.

Open up the Box

Open up that box and in it you'll find these with the SD600 Digital ELPH:

  • 16 MB Secure Digital Card
  • Rechargeable NB-4L lithium-ion battery
  • Battery charger
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM
  • User's manual

Storage and Power

I don't know why Canon even bothers to include a memory card every time since it's insanely small. You will have to factor in the cost of at least a 512 MB high-speed SD card during your purchase (or your dealer will bundle in a free card if you're lucky)! The SD600 requires a high-speed memory card for most of its functions, most notably the unlimited continuous shooting and movie recording features.

The Canon SD600 Digital ELPH squeezes an extra 10 shots out of the same NB-4L and can take about 160 shots (CIPA standard). That's STILL below average. The SD600 also continues Canon's tradition of not including a battery indicator (at all) and the little icon starts to flash only 5 minutes before "change the battery pack" makes its appearance.

It takes about an hour and a half to fully charge the NB-4L battery. If possible, get a spare battery as the battery life here is on the low side. I hope you don't mind but here's a fairly long list of battery life numbers (Apparently this camera class is a very competitive one) so here we go:

150 shots - Canon PowerShot SD450 Digital ELPH
160 shots - Canon PowerShot SD600 Digital ELPH
240 shots - Canon PowerShot SD700 IS Digital ELPH
500 shots - Casio Exilim Z600
170 shots - Fujifilm FinePix Z2
N/A - HP Photosmart R727
120 shots - Kodak EasyShare V550
150 shots - Kodak EasyShare V570
210 shots - Nikon Coolpix S5
N/A - Olympus Stylus 710
320 shots - Panasonic Lumix FX01
150 shots - Pentax Optio A10
N/A - Samsung Digimax i6
240 shots - Sony Cyber-shot T9
390 shots - Sony Cyber-shot W50

A lot of other cameras can do much better, like the Casio Z600, Panasonic FX01 and Sony W50 - All 3 also use lithium-ion batteries.

Extras

The accessories available for the SD600 include an all-weather case, external slave flash, AC adapter and various cases and bags.

 

Camera Tour

The Canon PowerShot SD600's front has been redesigned a little and I must say this design is better than on the previous SD series. Canon apparently wanted the SD600 to resemble the "classic" Digital ELPH; The S100 which was introduced 6 years ago.

Anyway, the Canon SD600 now has 6 effective megapixels (compared to 5 on the SD450) on a new 1/2.5 inch CCD. The zoom lens is still the same; 3x UA optical zoom lens equivalent to 35 - 105 mm and f2.8 - f4.9. The UA lens allows more zoom power to be packed into a smaller package.

The SD600's lens is one of the "fastest" in its class though it lacks an optical image stabilizer which some competition have already (Namely Panasonic, Pentax and Sony). The SD600's closest competitor in the lens area is the Panasonic FX01, which has a 28 - 102 mm lens with aperture range of f2.8 - f5.6 plus an optical image stabilizer.

The Canon SD600's built-in flash is has a range of 0.5 - 3.5 m at wide-angle and 0.5 - 2.0 m at telephoto which is above average. The AF-assist beam/self-timer lamp and optical viewfinder are located above the lens and next to the flash, the larger window being the viewfinder. The microphone hole is the tiny dot next to the lens. All these are the same as the SD450.

The Canon PowerShot SD600 Digital ELPH features a 2.5 inch LCD which has gone up in resolution by 50%. It now has 173,000 pixels, compared to 115,000 pixels on the previous SD series. The resolution increase is not very noticeable unless compared side by side with 2005 ELPHs like the SD550. There's still plenty of room for more resolution - the Panasonic FX01's LCD is considerably sharper side-by-side with the SD600.

The LCD brightens a lot in low-light so visibility is excellent. Outdoors, visibility has been improved slightly. If you like viewing the LCD from various angles, the I'm glad to report that the LCD is clearer in those conditions.

The SD600 is one of the (last) few ultra-compact cameras with an optical viewfinder. It's small (Too small for my liking) and I find myself using the LCD 99% of the time. Something worthy of note is that for $50 more, the Canon PowerShot SD630 Digital ELPH has a 3 inch LCD, but no viewfinder.

On the SD600, the mode switch and speaker exchanged positions. The mode switch has been moved more to the right. True enough, it is now easier to change modes. The mode switch has the same 3 options: Shooting, movie and playback.

The print/share button below the speaker lights up when connected to a PC/printer. Below that is the 5 way controller which has buttons assigned to the main aspects of the camera:

  • Up - ISO speed (Auto, high auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800)/Jump (Go ahead/back: 10 images, 100 images, next shot date, movie, folder)
  • Down - Drive (Single shot, continuous, self-timer)/Delete photo
  • Left - Focus setting (Normal, macro, infinity)
  • Right - Flash setting (Auto, auto with red-eye reduction, flash on with red-eye reduction, flash on, slow-sync, off)

The ISO range on the SD600 has been improved to cover ISO 80 up to ISO 800. The new high auto ISO option increases sensitivity when required.

The FUNCtion button brings up/down a list of customizable options which allows you to set:

  • Sub-shooting mode (Automatic, manual, digital macro, portrait, night snapshot, scene modes [Kids & pets, indoor, foliage, snow, beach, fireworks, underwater])
  • Exposure compensation (-2 till +2 in 1/3 increments) OR Long shutter (1 - 15 seconds)
  • White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, fluorescent H, custom)
  • Photo effects (Off, vivid, neutral, low sharpening, sepia, black-and-white, My Colors)
  • Metering method (Evaluative, center weighted, spot)
  • Quality (Superfine, fine, normal)
  • Resolution (6 MP, 4 MP, 2 MP, VGA, postcard, widescreen)

The FUNCtion button also doubles as a SET button (A "okay" or confirmation button). Do note that the long shutter and metering method are grayed-out in movie mode.

There is one change and one new option in the list above. The change being My Colors is now under photo effects while the new feature is the Widescreen image size which takes a 16:9 photo - perfect for your widescreen television!

As you all know, the "Postcard resolution" is essentially a photo 2 MP in size at Fine quality. You can choose to imprint the date or date and time, or turn imprinting off. The custom white balance allows you to take photos which look natural and is especially useful when none of the 5 preset WB options are suitable.

Since the SD600 is a point-and-shoot camera, the only other manual control (Besides custom white balance) is long shutter. You can change the shutter speed between 1 to 15 seconds; which is used mostly for night scenes. Noise reduction is automatically activated (and it cannot be turned off) when you select a shutter speed slower than 1.3 seconds.

The DISPlay button toggles the amount of info displayed on the LCD: No info, general info or all info (Playback) and display on, display info or LCD off (Shooting). Pressing the DISPlay button for longer than 1 second boosts the LCD brightness till the max (Unless, of course, it's already at the brightest setting).

I am sad to see that Canon did not include a live histogram on the SD600 (Other PowerShots like the S3 IS have it though).

I'll talk about the other sub-shooting modes in the next section of my review but now, I'll explain more about the "My Colors" feature. Using the Canon My Colors feature, you can make your photos more interesting by tweaking stuff around quite a bit. You may not like your photo when it gets too messy so there's an option to save the original "untweaked" version of your photo

Positive film makes all the colors (Red, green and blue) more vivid. You can make those 3 colors individually more vivid (Vivid red, vivid green, vivid blue). The lighter/darker skin tone can make people look more pale/tan in photos (Too bad there isn't an option to change skin tone by person, especially when taking group photos!).

And there's color accent which turns everything, but the color of your choice, to black and white. You can also tune the tolerance value while you're at that. I'm feeling quite tired today so I'll just use the My Colors stuff from the SD450 review. Here's an example:

Original image

Default tolerance (0)

+5 Tolerance

-5 Tolerance

As you can see the original image is completely unaltered (What you'll get during normal shooting). Then I selected the red from the SanDisk card. In the top right image, what you'll get is red and only red.

By increasing tolerance, the colors that are close to red are maintained (Note the yellow button). Decrease the tolerance and you'll get the opposite results (Note that the red looks faded in the bottom right photo).

Tolerance value ranges from +5 to -5 and can be changed in 1 step increments. The same can be done for color swap, except now you're changing one color for another:

 

I swapped the color of this poor shrub with the color of a nearby car. The result of the swap is not that perfect so that's when tolerance tuning comes in. I turned the packaging of a french fries container black the other day and I had a good laugh but that was using the SD550 - That's why that isn't in this review.

Finally, there's a custom color feature which allows manual tweaking of the individual values of red, green, blue and skin tone in 1 step increments, from +2 to -2.

And finally, we can continue the camera tour after a lot of talking about features on the SD600!

One part of the camera that hasn't changed is the SD600's top. The power button (which lights up green when the camera is on) and shutter button with a wrapped around zoom lever are located there. One side of the camera is totally bare while the other has a wrist strap mount and A/V + USB ports. And is it just me or has the shutter button been moved a little to the right (just what I wanted!).

Before we continue, here's the side of the SD600 which has a wrist strap mount and I/O ports.

The Canon PowerShot SD600 Digital ELPH's memory card and battery slots are located under the same flimsy door. This door is a teeny bit tougher than the SD450's door but not good enough, and is still not spring loaded. The tripod mount placement makes it impossible to change battery packs/memory cards while using a tripod.

Shooting

The automatic mode on the SD600 is self explanatory - All settings except image size/quality are chosen by the camera. "Manual" mode is more of a programmed auto mode. The SD600 has 9 scene modes and I think it needs more (Some competition offer more than 20 scene modes), considering that there are no manual controls.

As explained in the previous section, the function menu houses 6 sub-shooting modes - Auto, manual, digital macro, portrait and night snapshot. The last placement holds any scene mode of your choice (Out of the other 7 scene modes).

The Canon PowerShot SD600 Digital ELPH features a 3 cm macro mode. You can get even closer using 4x digital zoom but I don't encourage that.

In addition to scene modes, I'd surely appreciate at least some "priority" modes (Aperture and shutter priority). Too bad the SD600 has none.

Recording

The Canon PowerShot SD600 Digital ELPH carries over one of the best movie modes on a compact digital camera, though you may need to use a high-speed memory card. You can take VGA movies at 30 FPS till up to 1 GB in Standard mode - That's only 8 minutes! You can increase the recording time by selecting another size/frame rate. Selectable movie size/frame rate in Standard mode:

Size - VGA (640 x 480) or QVGA (320 x 240)
Frame rate - 30 FPS (Smooth) or 15 FPS (Can be choppy)

Another option, the "Fast Frame Rate" mode, can take QVGA movies at 60 FPS up to 1 minute. I wonder why the 1 minute barrier is still there since it was removed on the Canon S3 IS.

A Compact movie option records movies at QQVGA (That's 160 x 120) and 15 FPS up to 3 minutes so you can attach them to e-mails. Something worthy of note is there's a My Colors movie mode which allows you to record movies using the My Colors feature I mentioned earlier on. Like a movie recorded in Standard mode, a My Colors movie can be up to 1 GB per clip and the size/frame rate is selectable.

Movies are recorded in AVI format, thus the large movie sizes and the reason movies always reach the 1 GB per clip limit! That means the SD600 can only record 8 minutes worth of VGA 30 FPS movie on a 1 GB card. Compare that to the Sony W50 which can do 12 minutes on a 1 GB card using the same settings (MPEG1 format) or the Casio Exilim P505 which can do 30 minutes with stereo sound (MPEG4 format)!

The SD600 can use digital zoom while recording a movie since it does not require the lens to move. Digital zoom can cause loss of quality but it's not that obvious in a movie. So it's a personal decision whether or not to turn digital zoom off in movie mode.

Unlike most of its competitors, the SD600 does not have any silent movie mode, cannot use optical zoom and the focus is fixed.

Speaking of quality, the SD600's video quality is excellent and can be as good as stills (if digital zoom is not used). Audio quality was great and clear.

Performance

The SD600 starts up in a rather slow 2 seconds - Surprisingly, the SD700 IS with a larger lens starts up in half that time! Focusing takes roughly 1.5 seconds and it is noisy, literally. The SD600 AF mechanism makes a little crackling sound. The SD600's competitors focus faster than that, especially the Panasonc FX01.

Shot-to-shot interval is about 1.8 seconds. Shutter lag is almost unnoticeable, save for several occasions in low-light when the camera couldn't lock focus and at the telephoto end.. The flash charges up in 4 seconds which is fairly quick.

The Canon PowerShot SD600 Digital ELPH inherits the unlimited continuous shooting feature found on DIGIC II Canon cameras. Based on my testing with a 256 MB SanDisk Ultra II SD, the Canon SD600 Digital ELPH can fill up the memory card with photos at 2 FPS in continuous shooting drive. While not many digital cameras can do that, this one can. The Panasonic FX01 does the same but at a slower 1.4 FPS.

The lens goes (noisily, again) from wide-angle to telephoto in about two seconds. When it comes to powering down, the SD600 turns off in 1 second - Faster than on the SD550.

Image Quality

Many have been wondering about the new 6 megapixel CCD Canon used this year and how the SD600 would perform when it comes to ISO. Well, wonder no more. Here is my ISO test:


ISO 80 (f2.8, 1/2 sec)


ISO 100 (f2.8, 1/3 sec)


ISO 200 (f2.8, 1/6 sec)


ISO 400 (f2.8, 1/13 sec)


ISO 800 (f2.8, 1/25 sec)

The Canon SD600 produces fairly sharp photos. At ISO 80 and ISO 100, noise is not a problem. Step up to ISO 200, and things are slightly noisier. At ISO 400, it gets worse but still acceptable. When you go to ISO 800, things are noisy! With some post-processing using Paint Shop Pro, I could manage to "soothe" the noise a little. Chromatic aberration (Color fringing) was visible throughout the ISO range.

As you can see, Canon took a different approach in noise reduction compared to Sony. The Sony W50 that I reviewed last week seemed to have less noise but the photos were over-processed and quite smudgy. On the other hand, the Canon SD600 produces more natural images at the expense of noise.

Except for red-eye, the Canon SD600 Digital ELPH performed well in terms of image quality and is better than the SD450. Photos were pleasing without an over-processed look. Overall image quality is not perfect but still very good.

Photo gallery

Want to see more photos taken by the Canon PowerShot SD600 Digital ELPH? Check out the Canon SD600 photo gallery. Upon request of many readers, I have took many photos at ISO 800.

Playback

In playback, the Canon PowerShot SD600 Digital ELPH can playback stills and movies. Sound recorded in movies or using the sound memo function can be played back as well thanks to the built-in speaker. The SD600 can also perform these functions: Protect image, rotate, record sound memos (Up to 1 minute), slideshow, print marking, direct printing (The Canon PowerShot SD600 Digital ELPH is PictBridge enabled), transfer marking, transition effects and now, even post-process photos with My Colors.

The My Colors post-processing feature is new to the Canon SD600. It allows you to make colors more vivid, change skin tones, swap colors and all the My Colors stuff. Previous Canon PowerShots could only shoot using My Colors. The "print" section is also new and can be configured when the camera is connected to a computer.

Some other recent fun features found on the Canon SD600 include 2 playback transition effects (Fade or overlap) and 3 transition effects for slideshows. While we're at this, I mind as well tell you about the slideshow display option. Choose to play all images in a slideshow or play them by date, folder, movies, stills or print-marked photos only.

You can also zoom up to 10x into still photos taken and take a look around using the 4 directional buttons. Choose to see no info, basic info or lots of info (Though no shutter speed or aperture value is shown) about your photos. Despite not having a live histogram, at least one is shown during playback on the SD600.

About the amount of information shown in playback...

Basic info - Image size/quality, date & time shot, folder/image number and number of photos taken.

Lots of info - Basic info plus histogram, shooting mode, ISO speed, exposure compensation, focus setting, photo effect, metering method, white balance setting, file size and dimensions.

 

Conclusion

The Canon PowerShot SD600 Digital ELPH is a great go-anywhere camera which took the SD450 and made everything better. The SD600 features 6 effective megapixels, 3x optical zoom and a 2.5 inch LCD.

The SD600's new LCD has more resolution and is a little sharper yet it's still not as sharp or as high-res as other cameras. Still, the LCD is visible both indoors and outdoors. The Night Display feature brightens the LCD at the cost of frame rate while holding down the DISPlay button boosts the LCD backlight.

The Canon SD600 also features a decent movie mode, recording VGA movies at 30 FPS. While this is very good, the low compression (using AVI) is not easy on space and the camera cannot focus or use optical zoom while recording. Maybe it's time Canon put their USM on the other PowerShots?

While looks doesn't really matter, I have to say that the SD600 looks very classy and stylish. As for image quality, the SD600 is one of the best ultra-compacts which produces sharp natural-looking photos with little noise. I'm glad Canon added a low noise ISO 800 option since more cameras are having this. Pair that with unlimited 2 FPS continuous shooting and we're getting somewhere!

There are some things the SD600 is still lacking. Namely, battery life (160 shots per charge will never do!) and the lack of a battery indicator. Most cameras of its class (5-6 megapixels, 3x optical zoom, 2.5 inch LCD, ultra-thin) can do well over 200 or 300 shots using physically smaller & lower capacity battery packs.

The SD600 is also lacking manual controls. I won't mind even some aperture and shutter priority modes. Many ultra-thin cameras are starting to have manual controls, especially priority modes (Hmm Casio comes in mind).

With the exception of its continuous shooting feature, the SD600 is slowly starting to lag behind competition. Taking its own sweet time (2 seconds) to start up and rather slow (compared to others) auto-focusing are its two main flaws.

Overall, the Canon PowerShot SD600 Digital ELPH receives a thumbs up from me. It's a good performer in practically everything except battery life and manual controls.

What's hot:

  • Ultra-compact and very classy
  • Fairly powerful flash
  • Large fairly high-resolution LCD
  • Fairly fast, unlimited continuous shooting
  • Excellent movie mode
  • Improved user interface
  • My Colors post-processing can be done in playback
  • Good high ISO performance (some post-processing may be required, though)
  • Very good photo quality

What's not:

  • Battery life is below average
  • No manual controls
  • LCD is still not that sharp; hasn't reach its full potential
  • Red-eye
  • Large movie file sizes and cannot optical zoom or focus when recording
  • Fairly high noise at ISO 800 (countered by post-processing)
  • Startup and autofocus needs to be faster

Recommended accessories:

  • Extra NB-4L battery
  • 512 MB high-speed SD card
  • LCD protector

Other Cameras

Here are some other cameras you might want to consider:

Canon PowerShot SD630 Digital ELPH - Essentially the SD600 with a larger 3 inch LCD but no optical viewfinder. It also features a "touch control dial".

Canon PowerShot SD700 IS Digital ELPH - Larger than the SD600 but better battery life optical image stabilization, 4x optical zoom, slightly faster and more stylish.

Casio Exilim Z600 - The best battery life in its class, a ton of scene modes and excelent movie mode but still not good when it comes to low light shooting and fairly slow.

Fujifilm FinePix F30 - An excellent camera for low-light shooting (Low noise ISO 3200) along with a viewable LCD in low-light. Also has better battery life, full manual controls. The only issues here are slow continuous shooting and uses xD cards which are expensive.

Kodak EasyShare V570 - A unique camera with two lenses which can take very wide-angled shots (great for indoor use) and excellent movie mode but terrible battery life and fairly slow. Image quality also leaves much to be desired.

Panasonic Lumix FX01 - Has a 28 mm wide-angle lens (not as wide as the Kodak though), comes with optical image stabilization, one of the best movie modes, good image quality and battery life. The downside is some soft photos and doesn't do that well at high ISO options.

Sony Cyber-shot W50 - The SD600's direct competitor with a lower res LCD, limited continuous shooting and slower but can do ISO 1000 with low noise, movies can last 50% longer and has many accessories.

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